SINCE I retired last year, I have a lot more time to read, and so I have a lot of books to recommend.
“Days Without End,” by Sebastian Barry, is easily my favorite of this year. His writing is wonderful — the descriptions of war, peace, love and death, the dialogue, the characters, and the plot all are pretty much perfect. This novel follows the travels and adventures of two young gay men in the West and the Civil War.
It can be brutal, but slavery and the slaughter of Native Americans were brutal. If you liked the TV show “Deadwood,” or either the books or screen adaptions of “Little Big Man” and “Lonesome Dove,” (or even if you did not), read this novel.
Another book well worth reading is Gail Honeyman’s “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.” Both very funny and very sad, it follows the life of a socially awkward survivor of abuse, who lives in an apartment in London with her cat. This book has several “oh my god” moments as more and more details of Eleanor’s past life unfold.
Being a bit of a nerd, I reread the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series after HBO’s version, “Game of Thrones,” concluded. I had forgotten what a big sprawling mess it is, albeit a fun sprawling mess. There are many, many characters and events excised from the series (remember Big and Little Griff?). I look forward to the next book, and finding out what really happens to Sansa and Arya.
Richard Russo’s “Everybody’s Fool,” a sequel to “Nobody’s Fool,” reminded me why he is one of my favorite novelists. He writes characters as well, if not better than, anyone. Although reading the first book is not necessary, I would recommend reading them together, as the events that occur in the unlucky upstate town of North Bath, N.Y., ripple into the second.
Some critics called Patrick Radden Keefe’s “Say Nothing” one of 2019’s best non-fiction works. It is a devastating account of the brutality on both sides of the conflict during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. It is a story of duplicity and betrayal by supposed friends and comrades, senseless deaths, and the effort of Gerry Addams, the former leader of the IRA’s political arm, Sinn Fein, to cleanse his personal history of any responsibility for the violence.
Every year I try to read something about New Hampshire history, and in 2019 enjoyed “New Hampshire’s General John Stark.” The author, Clifton Labree, had given me a copy several years ago, and I promptly misplaced it in the morass of books piled up in my house. I found it again this spring, and learned a lot more about Stark, and also New Hampshire’s pivotal role in the War for Independence.
I also like to fill holes in my literary education, so this year I read “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” by Victor Hugo. It really is a great book, but prepare to google names, places, and events, as Hugo expected his audience to have a built-in knowledge base that most of us do not have.
There are several other books on my recommend list: “Ninety Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret” by Craig Brown (a must read for those of us inexplicably fascinated by the Windsor family); Sara Walker’s “Dietland,” an enjoyable feminist novel; Man Booker Prize finalist “Washington Black,” by Esi Edugyan, a novel about a young slave who escapes the brutality of a Barbados sugar plantation; and “Never Let Me Go,” by Kazuo Ishiguro, a troubling and haunting novel about cloned children.
Other books I recommend are Carol Rifka Brunt’s “Tell the Wolves I’m Home,” a sad novel about family and loss; “Early Riser,” an alternative world created by the fantastical mind of Jasper FForde; and even better than I remembered after 40 years “Catch 22” by Joseph Heller; and “The Boys In The Boat,” a very well-written account by Daniel James Brown of the 1936 University of Washington crew team that won the gold medal in the Berlin Olympics.
Take a trip to your local library or book store — there are so many great things to read, no matter what your interests.